Alternative budgets arose in Canada in response to the realization of many in progressive movements that credibility on fiscal and economic issues was critical to building public support for social and economic policy reform. CHOICES in Manitoba was the first such effort in Canada. CHOICES was started by a coalition of community groups based in Winnipeg and a group of academics led by John Loxley of the University of Manitoba.
When the Liberal federal government took its sharp turn to the right under then-Finance Minister Paul Martin, the alternative budgeting idea was taken up at the national level.
I was involved in alternative budgeting from the earliest days of the Alternative Federal Budget, when I worked on the tax sections of the AFB for the first several years. The tax work on the AFB gave me the opportunity to make use of the knowledge and insights I gained into the tax system from my work as the Executive Director of the Ontario Fair Tax Commission between 1991 and 1994.
With the election of the Harris Government in Ontario, a group of labour and public policy researchers created the Ontario Alternative Budget working group, now a project of the Ontario Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. I was the co-chair and principal economic researcher / writer from the beginning of the project until it was wound up in the late 2000s. Issues of taxation and fiscal capacity were central to the OAB right from the beginning, as the Harris Government implemented its one-size-fits-all tax cut policies. The OAB produced an annual budget, as well as regular commentaries and technical papers on provincial budgetary issues.
I have also worked on budget issues at the provincial level in Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador and with the group at St. Mary’s University in Halifax who have been working for several years on alternative budgets for the Province of Nova Scotia as well as on municipal budget issues in Toronto.